You may have come across a beautiful postcard or an amazing Photoshopped picture of Prague that made you wonder where the heck the picture could have been taken?! You comfort yourself with the idea that the photographer must have suffered a lot and surely walked miles before getting to this distant secret place, or even worse, must have gone on some kind of dreary walking tour of Prague!
However, things that seem distant and unreachable are often closer and more accessible than we think. In fact, one of the most beautiful and popular parks in Prague – Letná – is only a short ride from the city centre! You can take tram no. 15 from “Náměstí republiky” (the square with two shopping centres, the Municipal House and the Powder Tower) or tram no. 17 from “Právnická fakulta” (Faculty of Law at the riverbank at the end of the famous “Pařížská ulice” (Paris Street) full of luxury boutiques). Either way, you will get to the stop “Čechův most” in no time and then you just have to climb up the stairs.
Still having trouble finding this place? Don’t worry, the people of Prague have gone to great lengths to make it clearly visible from far away… Just look for a huge ticking triangular thing right next to the Vltava River. By now, some of you might be asking yourselves who in their right mind would build a giant metronome in the middle of a city? To satisfy your curiosity, we must look back at a chapter of Czech history, which is not a particularly happy one to recall for most Czechs.
In 1948, the Soviet Union decided that the freedom celebration party in Czechoslovakia after the Second World War had been going on for far too long, so we became a communist country. As peoples’ hearts were being injected with communist ideals, the park in Letná suddenly started feeling too empty. The Czechs were forced to show their gratitude to their Soviet liberators (just like we are grateful to our boss for letting us work overtime, thus liberating us from the chains of laziness…) and the empty Letná Park was the perfect place. As a result, since 1955 no tourists (if there were any), however bad their sense of direction was and even without a tourist map of Prague, could have possibly missed this place. There was a huge statue of Stalin, enjoying a beautiful view of Prague from the top of the Letná Park (while everyone else worked in factories). It was the biggest statue in the whole of Europe at the time (no wonder the architects committed suicide before it was officially revealed, probably due to exhaustion). What is interesting (and a bit upsetting for some) is that some of the stone used for the statue was taken from sites playing a significant role in the history of our nation (e.g. the Old Town Hall, our national hill Říp or from village Ležáky, annihilated by the Nazis along with Lidice).
Fortunately (for us), Stalin’s supporters didn’t enjoy this magnificent statue for long (those who miss it can buy Chinese Pu-erh tea with a picture of Stalin and Mao Zedong in one of the many Prague tea shops). When Khrushchev took power, he openly criticized Stalin’s cult of personality and the statue was taken down (narcissism never gets fully appreciated…). After the fall of communism in 1989, when the hearts of people were being filled with money for a change, the Letná Park seemed a bit empty again. The Metronome Monument was built at exactly the same spot where Stalin’s statue used to stand. The rationale was to remind us that times can change and to warn us against repeating the mistakes of the past (anyway, there is no need for that today, since dry river beds, infertile soil and climate change can do the job very well on their own).
So come and enjoy the view Stalin once had and see our beautiful city of Prague from a different angle. Since there are several playgrounds in the park, it is one of the things to do in Prague with kids. And don’t forget to learn from your past mistakes (especially don’t make the mistake of not having an awesome once-in-a-lifetime Prague holiday)!